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"Fitness" labels on food may lead consumers to eat more, exercise less

Dr. Holly Phillips joins “CBS This Morning” to discuss the hidden power of food labels
"Fitness" label on food may lead to weight gain 02:48

While foods labeled with messages suggesting they promote fitness can seem appealing to people trying to lose weight, they may have the opposite effect, new research suggests.

So-called "fitness branding" actually encourages people to eat more and exercise less, potentially thwarting their weight loss efforts, according to a study published in the Journal of Marketing Research.

"Marketing foods and branding them as 'fitness' and 'active' and 'health' is a really popular sales strategy," Dr. Holly Phillips told "CBS This Morning." "So the researchers wanted to know how it essentially affects us."

The study authors gave over 150 weight-conscious men and women a bag of trail mix. Half of the snacks were labeled with the word "Fitness" and displayed an image of a running shoe; the other half were simply labeled "Trail Mix." The participants were given eight minutes to snack at their leisure. In another phase of the study, they were given the option to exercise on a stationary bike as vigorously as they liked after eating the snack.

The results showed that people given the "Fitness" branded trail mix ate on average 59 more calories and exercised less intensely, burning 11 calories fewer than those snacking on the plainly-marked packages.

"In part it comes down to what we call the 'health halo,' where we tend to over-indulge and take in more calories if we feel the snacks are healthy," Phillips said. "But to me it also kind of exposed this insidious way that labeling gives people who are trying to lose weight a false sense of security."

To prevent getting misled in this way, Phillips said consumers need to be more aware of the food they're purchasing and eating.

"We need to read the labels," she said. "Just because it says 'gluten-free' or 'organic' or 'healthy' it doesn't mean that it doesn't have sugar and fat."

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